Winner, Howard, Avon among 10 undefeated teams heading into playoffs
WINNER — Heading into the playoffs, there are 10 undefeated high school football teams in the state and only one is defending a state championship.
The Winner Warriors (8-0) are the reigning Class 11B champions and don’t look to slow down with the first round of the playoffs Tuesday.
“We don’t talk about being undefeated. We just wanted to put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs,” Winner coach Dan Aaker said.
Top-ranked Winner’s first test is No. 4 Bon Homme. The Warriors host the Cavaliers at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Winner.
The Warriors have battled adversity in their schedule this season, having two games rescheduled because of the weather.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys of how they handled that situation,” Aaker said. “It challenged them to be mentally strong and it might be to our benefit in the playoffs since the games are on different days and you have a shorter time to prepare.”
Aaker commended his players for how they’ve played this season, winning the Southeastern South Dakota Conference with wins over Parkston, Bon Homme and Wagner — all of which are in Region 3.
“Our region is darn tough,” Aaker said. “Bon Homme is a tough draw for us. It’s a new season now.”
The Warriors are led by senior Trace Meyer with 102 carries for 854 yards and 14 touchdowns. Junior running back Sam Naasz and junior quarterback Nathan Galbraith each have five rushing touchdowns and junior running back Tyrel Haley and junior running back Nick Hossle each have four.
Galbraith has completed 9 of 29 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for Winner and Naasz has hauled in two touchdown receptions. Defensively, senior linebacker Shayden Drey leads in tackles with 28.5, while Hossle and senior linebacker Forrest Cerv have each made two interceptions.
Two other area teams that look to make a run to the DakotaDome are Avon (8-0) and Howard (8-0). Avon finished runner-up in the Class 9B title game in 2011 and Howard finished runner-up to Deubrook Area in Class 9AA last year.
Howard coach Pat Ruml said falling short of the championship last season has a lot to do with how his team has prepared and played this year.
“A lot of the kids on this team didn’t play at the (Dakota)Dome last year, but being down there and losing bothered them,” said Ruml, who lost 13 seniors after last season. “They’ve been driven and winning the Cornbelt Conference was our goal and being undefeated came with it.”
Howard junior fullback Luke Loudenburg has run all over the field, rushing for 1,676 yards and 30 touchdowns on 156 carries and averaging 10.7 yards per carry. Junior running back Jordan Kuhle has 58 carries for 687 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 11.8 yards per carry.
The No. 1 Tigers host No. 4 Hanson in the first round of the Class 9A playoffs at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Howard. No. 1 Avon hosts No. 4 Scotland in a Class 9B first-round playoff game at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Avon.
Avon coach Tom Culver related to Ruml’s situation, saying his team was motivated from its let down in last year’s postseason.
“I told the kids last year that nothing is going to be handed to you,” said Culver, whose team lost in the quarterfinals to Colome. “We’re going to get their best shot and that means we have to play better and harder. We learned that lesson last year and the kids have been focused this year.”
The Pirates were also crowned conference champions in the Great Plains Conference.
Avon is led by senior running back Brandon Kocmich with 66 carries for 1,433 yards and 23 touchdowns. He averages 21.7 yards per carry and leads the defense with 67 tackles.
Junior running back Devin Tolsma has 60 carries for 668 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 11.1 yards per carry. Junior quarterback Logan Mudder has completed 4 of 12 passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns.